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Home > News > Columnists > Dr Manmohan Singh

'Indian foreign policy has had a basic consensus'

February 15, 2006

I have always believed that one of our greatest civilisational strengths is that public policy is shaped by a broad consensus, based on a rich and healthy tradition of open debate and public discussion. This has lent a measure of democratic predictability and resilience to our policies.

I recall, for example, that the reorientation of our economy in 1991 came after an informed debate of nearly a decade on our economic policy. Such public discussion prepared the domestic ground for the transition that followed. It was as a result of this broad based consensus that there has been continuity in our economic policy since 1991, despite many changes in government. Such has also been the case with our foreign policy.

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In this context, it is instructive to recall that even before independence, our political and intellectual leaders extensively debated the contours of the foreign policy of an independent India. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru elaborated his vision of foreign policy within hours after he took charge as the head of the interim government. He could do so not only because of his own well-considered views on the matter, but also because he knew his views reflected a consensus within the Congress party and the nation.

I do not suggest that such a consensus has precluded differences of opinion on foreign policy within our society. Over the past five decades of independence, there have been divergences and debates on many elements of our foreign policy. Within Parliament and outside, among commentators and our press, the burning issues of the day have always been debated and contested hotly.

However, what has remained constant has been a basic understanding across the political spectrum on core elements of our foreign policy. This has contributed to building a broad mainstream consensus on vital issues of the day, on matters pertaining to our region and beyond. This has helped our leadership take positions based consistently on our national interest and in line with public opinion.

Consequently, the philosophy of 'non-alignment' was based on the principle that we were aligned only with our values and our enlightened national interests; we were not aligned with anyone, or against anyone. The underlying philosophy was that issues would be judged on merits rather than in a mechanical or deterministic manner. Non-alignment was therefore always an expression of our enlightened national interest and I dare say, will remain so.

Over the past five decades and more, we have strived to create the necessary space to exercise our freedom to make policy choices in an increasingly inter-dependent world. The means we adopt to pursue our enduring objectives of peace, national security and economic development will of course change from time to time. They must evolve in response to the changing realities of an ever-changing world. While the instruments of policy and the tactics and strategy we adopt may change with time, the values in which they are embedded are universal and will remain true for all time.

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In this context, let me once again recall Pandit Nehru's famous statement that international relations are not merely a game of chess. Speaking in December 1947 in the Constituent Assembly, Panditji said, 'Talking about foreign policies, the House must remember that these are not just empty struggles on a chess board. Behind them lie all manner of things. Ultimately, foreign policy is the outcome of economic policy.'

Thus the bottomline for our nation and our people is and will remain, addressing the challenge of development. We seek higher economic growth; growth that is equitable and efficient. We seek new opportunities, new employment and new markets. We seek new skills and technologies. As we strive to realise our due place in the comity of Nations, any policy must stand the test of one simple question: how will it affect our quest for development and our need to provide a secure environment for government to deliver to our people.

For this, it goes without saying that the realisation of our goal lies in widening, deepening and expanding our interaction with all our economic partners, with all our neighbours, with all major powers. As a confident nation, we will interact with the world as a confident equal partner, seeking mutuality of benefit for all.

I therefore suggest that the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal is a forum that can be used to reinforce this sense of self-confidence among opinion makers in our society. True confidence comes from wisdom, while ignorance and limited knowledge make us tentative or foolhardy. As Tennyson said, knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. As a means of spreading wisdom, this journal can play an important role by promoting a responsible, informed and intelligent debate on the issues confronting our nation and our world today. This is the need of the hour.

I urge you to open your pages to young and energetic minds. Yours is an association of the best minds of our foreign policy establishment. You have a wealth of experience and the wisdom of age on your side. You can offer a perspective to younger scholars. You should encourage them to think out of the box, to find new and alternate approaches to chart a pathway to the future.

While we must be guided by the experiences of the past, we need not be constrained by it. We must have an informed view of future possibilities and have the wisdom to prepare for all eventualities. In this noble effort, yours must be a prominent voice of alternate views, moderation and sobriety.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh delivered this address at the launch of the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal.

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Number of User Comments: 15

Sub: beautiful comments by wazir and building consensus

Comments by Wazir beautifully sum up situation today and group and party who caused it. Manmohan Singh is part of that party responsible for our ...

Posted by soumyasrajan

Sub: Iran's nuclear policy

It is clear that Iran is in violation of the treties that it has signed.So it is obvious that it is not a country that ...

Posted by Dr.Anil

Sub: India's foreign policy

Sir, I am really surprised by the left parties' and SP's statements about the vote on Iran.They are virtually catering to narrow and parochial feelings.They ...

Posted by Anil

Sub: what consensus, mr pm?

less than 60% voters voted in last election and you were not directly elected by the people. You were elected by the elites. It\\\'s nice ...

Posted by np

Sub: what policy

most of my life same congress party spoke of socialism/self reliance/ non alignment which completely isolated us not only as a dormant society who cud\\\\\\\'nt ...

Posted by M K Wazir



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